WEEK­END ES­CAPE

Food and Travel (Singapore) - - Contents - WORDS RACHEL LIM PHO­TOS RACHEL LIM, CEN­TRALWORLD AND EATHAI

A gourmet ad­ven­ture at Thai­land’s city cen­tre

Thai cui­sine is of­ten syn­ony­mous with fiery, ap­petite-whet­ting dishes – think clas­sics such as the sweet and sour tom yum soup, or the spicy som tum (green pa­paya salad).

Thai cui­sine is of­ten syn­ony­mous with fiery, ap­petite-whet­ting dishes – think clas­sics such as the sweet and sour tom yum soup, or the spicy som tum (green pa­paya salad).

Hence what peaked our in­ter­est upon ar­riv­ing Bangkok was re­al­is­ing that Thai cui­sine varies greatly across the dif­fer­ent re­gions in Thai­land. In Cen­tral Thai­land, where Bangkok is lo­cated, Ahan Phak Klang (cen­tral Thai food) also in­cludes a va­ri­ety of Thai Chi­nese dishes. Dishes are usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied with non-gluti­nous jas­mine rice and may be a lit­tle sim­i­lar to Chi­nese cui­sine.

This is un­like the Isan (North­east­ern Thai­land) cui­sine, where gluti­nous rice is a sta­ple food that ac­com­pa­nies most meals. Here, the sticky rice is pressed to form a ball and eaten by hand. Soups too, are a com­mon el­e­ment, and usu­ally con­tain a mix­ture of in­gre­di­ents such as veg­eta­bles, herbs, chunks of fish, balls of ground pork, or noo­dles. Due to the re­gion’s prox­im­ity with Laos, Isan cui­sine con­tain many in­flu­ences from Laos. A few no­table dishes heav­ily in­flu­enced by Lao­tian cui­sine in­clude the som tam (green pa­paya salad), larb (meat salad), and kai yang (grilled chicken). The Isan area is also no­to­ri­ous for some very in­ter­est­ing snacks such as fried crick­ets,

silk­worms, grasshop­pers, dung bee­tles, lizards as frogs. This unique choice of food was orig­i­nally a re­sult of poverty. Now, both Isan peo­ple and tourists alike savour them as del­i­ca­cies or snacks.

While the us­age of chilli pep­pers is com­mon in Isan cui­sine, heat is a more prom­i­nent char­ac­ter in South­ern Thai cui­sine. Of­ten­times, the spice used here doesn’t just sting then fade with a cou­ple sips of chilled bev­er­age; it is known to be the sort of deep, in­tense heat which takes some time to quell.

South­ern Thai cur­ries are es­pe­cially spicy and usu­ally comes in the colour of red, or­ange and yel­low due to the fresh turmeric which may be rubbed onto seafood to get rid the ‘fishy’ smell. But apart from heat, another dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of South­ern dishes is the abun­dant us­age of co­conut cream, fresh herb and spices such turmeric, galan­gal, lemon­grass and kaf­fir lime leaves. The gen­er­ous amount of co­conut milk in South­ern cur­ries also mean that the heat would be mel­lowed out. As the South­ern area has a huge coast­line, fish and seafood is of­ten part of the meals too. The typ­i­cal way of serv­ing these dishes is sim­ple – grilled and flavoured with chill­ies and limes, boiled in cur­ries, or stirred into sal­ads.

Though the his­tory and ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion of each Thai re­gion greatly af­fects the cui­sine of each area, it is no longer de­fin­i­tive these days. For ex­am­ple, Isan cui­sine has be­come pop­u­lar in Cen­tral Thai, whereas the re­verse is also true – Cen­tral Thai cui­sine is now well-liked in North­east­ern Thai­land. You can also find Isan cur­ries in the South­ern re­gion, though with the South­ern style of cook­ing, it might be a lot spicier.

The dif­fer­ent parts of Thai­land is surely unique, but if there’s one place that truly en­cap­su­lates the en­tirety of Thai cui­sine, Cen­tral Bangkok is the place to go. Here, trav­ellers can em­bark on an ex­cit­ing and com­pre­hen­sive culi­nary ad­ven­ture with­out tour­ing the whole of Thai­land.

HEART OF THE CAP­I­TAL

Lo­cated in the heart of the Cen­tral Busi­ness Dis­trict, Cen­tral Bangkok is a com­pact area that is less than two square kilo­me­tres. The bustling neigh­bour­hood is sur­rounded by four roads – Ratchadamri, Ploen­chit, Wire­less and Rama IV – and all the malls, lux­ury bou­tiques and trendy restau­rants and bars are within easy reach from your ho­tel. Once known as down­town Bangkok, the river­front Rat­ton­akosin has since been changed, and is sim­ply known as Cen­tral Bangkok now. Ex­pect Bangkok’s finest in shop­ping, life­style, en­ter­tain­ment, and fine­din­ing to be lo­cated at this mod­ern hub. Those look­ing to get their fill of both shop­ping and din­ing can head to Cen­tralworld (999/9 Rama I Rd, 10330, Tel: +66 2 021 9999) for a start. With over 500 re­tail stores in fash­ion and 100 restau­rants, Cen­tralworld is the largest life­style shop­ping des­ti­na­tion in Bangkok. Cen­tralworld is also eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from Cen­tara Grand Ho­tel (99/ Pathumwan, 999 Rama I Rd, Tel: +66 2 769 1234) – both build­ings are in­ter­con­nected.

CHIC AND SIM­PLE

A must-visit for food­ies is Groove @ Cen­tralworld, a des­ig­nated area with Bangkok’s top restau­rants and gas­tro­bars. For some­thing ca­sual, head to Grey­hound Café (Tel: 02 613 1263). Chic, mod­ern and min­i­mal­is­tic, this trendy patis­serie and ca­sual-din­ing restau­rant is de­signed in tones of black, white and sil­ver. A take­away counter of­fers din­ers on-the-go with freshly baked pas­tries, sand­wiches and desserts. For those din­ing in, both in­door and al­fresco din­ing op­tions are avail­able. Start the meal with a fresh fruit juice or if not, healthy fruit cock­tails are sure to whet your ap­petite too. We liked the milk tea granita, a sweet drink in the form of chunky, shaved, iced milk tea. Wait for ice to melt or stir vig­or­ously to let the frozen por­tions dis­solve be­fore sip­ping it slowly on a hot day. If you are look­ing for some­thing light, Grey­hound Café serves a good range of sal­ads. The beef salad con­tains savoury strips of beef mixed with crunchy beansprouts, fra­grant gar­lic,

meat­balls, and red chilli flakes that adds a touch of spice. Equally ap­petis­ing is the pomelo salad, where the cit­rusy fra­grance of juicy pomelo chunks blends well with the savoury shrimp bits. Apart from Thai and Asian cui­sine, Grey­hound café also serves Euro­pean dishes such as fresh lasagne salad, and fet­tuc­cini with shrimp and mush­room cream sauce.

THE IDEAL HIDE­OUT

For a re­lax­ing night out, head to Hyde & Seek Gas­tro Bar (Tel: +66 2 168 5152), also lo­cated at Groove @ Cen­tralworld. This all-day din­ing restau­rant has an art­ful façade with fur­ni­ture in­clud­ing so­fas and rock­ing chairs, and the am­bi­ence is idyl­lic and re­lax­ing. All meat, poul­try, fish and seafood here are sourced sus­tain­ably when­ever pos­si­ble, and the restau­rant also works closely with or­ganic farm­ers to bring only the best veg­eta­bles and herbs to the ta­ble. Also note­wor­thy are the bev­er­ages. Hyde & Seek places a huge amount of em­pha­sis on their cock­tails, and that at­ten­tion has cer­tainly paid off well be­cause the con­coc­tions here are de­li­cious. At the ex­pan­sive bar area, one can ex­pect to find an eclec­tic mix of cre­ations from mod­ern in­no­va­tions to pop­u­lar clas­sics. Check with the friendly bar­tender for some in­ter­est­ing op­tions. We had a ‘Bird-bird’, a zesty and full-bod­ied cock­tail with a wooden bird clipped on the side. The drink is a sub­li­mal and hu­mor­ous al­le­gory of those who drinks too much and as a re­sult start to chirp like lit­tle birds.

A DECA­DENT SEN­SA­TION

In you’re in for an ab­so­lute treat, Zense (Level 17, Zen World @ Cen­tralworld, 4, 4/5 Ra­jadamri Rd, 10330, Tel: +66 2 100 9000) is the place to look out for. Com­pris­ing five top-rated restau­rants, in­door and al­fresco seat­ings, a trendy cock­tail bar and down­town’s most ex­pan­sive panoramic view, Zense is sure to im­press. The open-air deck over­looks the city lights of Bangkok, and it can be quite a mes­meris­ing scene to ob­serve. Start the meal with any of the famed Thai sal­ads, or whet your ap­petite with a ‘tom kar gai’, a sour tom yum soup with juicy chicken chunks. We also liked the Ja­panese glass noo­dle salad for its clean, sim­ple flavours and qual­ity in­gre­di­ents. Fans of grilled meat will also be pleased to know that the Aus­tralian wagyu ribeye beef was a de­li­cious and sat­is­fy­ing in­dul­gence. End the meal with a deca­dent ‘Heaven din­ing dessert for 2’ which is a lav­ish spread of cakes, lo­cal desserts and fresh fruits. Al­ter­na­tively, a sim­ple caramel cus­tard with silky-smooth tex­ture will wrap up the lux­u­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ence well too.

EAT LIKE A THAI

Just a cou­ple min­utes away from Cen­tralworld is Cen­tral Em­bassy (Ploen­chit Rd, Bangkok, Thai­land 10330, Tel: +66 2 119 7777), a high-end lux­ury shop­ping des­ti­na­tion with a con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture. De­sign plays a big part here; ev­i­dent from the sleek curves and com­plex con­struc­tion of the build­ing. At the Lower Ground (base­ment) of the eight-storey shop­ping mall is Eathai, a new Thai din­ing con­cept. This pre­mium food arena has as­sem­bled the best street food ven­dors from all over Thai­land into a large (5,000 square me­tres) mod­ern area with open con­cept kitchens and free seat­ings. With ded­i­cated stalls serv­ing de­lights from the Cen­tral, North, Esan South, Esan South, and South re­gions of Thai­land, Eathai prob­a­bly of­fers the most com­pre­hen­sive Thai din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Thai­land.

In the coun­tries out­side of Thai­land, and es­pe­cially in the West, a ma­jor­ity of Thai restau­rants serve Cen­tral Thai cui­sine, so em­bark­ing on a gourmet trail in Thai­land could be an in­ter­est­ing ad­ven­ture. While we cel­e­brate the no­tion of trav­el­ling widely and fre­quently, Cen­tral Bangkok is an al­len­com­pass­ing place that brings to­gether all the dif­fer­ent parts of Thai­land. As a fi­nal piece of ad­vice Al­lan Nam­chaisiri, Pres­i­dent of Zen at Cen­tralworld, re­mem­ber to eat spicy Thai food with co­pi­ous amount of veg­gies. “The veg­eta­bles en­hances the flavours of the food, and its fresh, crisp and sweet flavours helps to neu­tralise spice,” said Nam­chaisiri.

Cen­tralworld

Cen­tral­court

pomelo salad

beef salad

spicy som tum (green pa­paya salad) Eathai in­te­rior

grilled chicken with sticky rice

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